I’m Taking a Week’s Holiday 11 Weeks Before My Thesis Is Due

As you’re reading this, it’s 11 weeks until I submit my PhD thesis. 11 weeks. A decent amount of time, but it’s becoming more real by the day now. I’m writing this post in advance and scheduling it to be posted – I’m taking a break. From Monday 9th April until Monday 16th April I will be intentionally forgetting about my thesis, turning all notifications off on my phone, and logging out of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

I am taking an entire week to sort my head out. I’ve mentioned before that I have depression, and I really didn’t realise how how much of an impact that writing my thesis would have on my mental health. It’s not that I’ve been particularly ‘depressed’ if you know what I mean, I’ve just been a bit mopey for a few weeks; nothing major, just a bit numb and unmotivated. I’m getting better at recognising when things aren’t feeling so good, and now is one those times when I need a bit of time to myself.

I miss the feeling of being super motivated and excited to sit down and write (honestly, that was a thing a few months ago!), and this week’s holiday has come at the perfect time. I’d booked it off ages ago because I’m going to see Bastille in Edinburgh on Wednesday night (a Christmas present from my boyfriend), and then I’m going to Brussels with my best friend Friday to Monday to see Air Traffic. Initially I’d thought about just taking the days off that I needed to, but the past few weeks have made it really clear that I need to take the full week.  I need some time to sort my head out so that I can finish the PhD with the same feelings of motivation and enthusiasm that I started with. I want my thesis to be the best piece of writing I can possibly produce, and my brain is too mushy to do it justice right now.

This week I’m avoiding the internet, I’m unchaining myself from my desk and I’m going to have an entire week of doing stuff that I enjoy. Catch up with friends, read, go to the cinema, do some yoga, cook food from scratch (I’m an expert in Tesco ready meals at this point), spend time with my partner (this guy genuinely deserves a medal, I have been a true JOY to live with for the past few weeks), and actually make time to find out how my best friend’s first teaching job is going (I have been the worst friend recently, sorry everyone).

Credit: Pauline Kebuck

There will be no more blog posts from me for the next little while – I’ll be back once my head is feeling less like cotton wool and my thesis is feeling more like it will be something that I’m really proud of when it’s done.

Self-Care Tips to Keep You Sane: Active Hobbies

Last January I wrote about the importance of academic self-care for PhD students; I didn’t delve too far into the specifics of what I do in my downtime and a lot of people asked. ‘It’s hard to switch off’ and ‘I find it hard to relax’ were the two phrases I encountered most frequently, so I began a series of posts to provide more information and recommendations on what to do to force yourself to relax. Other posts in this series cover podcasts, reading for pleasure, and I’ve discussed the importance of having a creative outlet too.

This is the third installment in this ‘self-care tips to keep you sane’ series, and this week I’m talking about being active. At the beginning of a new year everyone it’s difficult to avoid talk of diets and fitness, and gym memberships are suddenly used for the first time in months. That whole ‘new year, new me’ thing is not what I’m about, what I’m talking about here is finding hobbies that you enjoy, and that actively get you away from your desk and demand that you concentrate on something other than your PhD. The enjoyment bit is crucial – work to try and find an active hobby that you really look forward to, and your mental health will thank you for it, particularly during deadline season when you’ve been sat at your desk for longer than usual.

In this post I wanted to give you an idea of the active hobbies that I’ve started and maintained over the course of my PhD.

Hot yoga

Winter Solstice candlelit yoga a few weeks ago.

If you’d told me 5 years ago that hot yoga would be something I look forward to every week, I’d have laughed in your face. Really though, this has become a central part of my routine, and I notice the difference in my productivity and motivation if I skip a week. For those of you that don’t know what hot yoga is, it’s basically yoga (I go to a vinyasa flow class) that’s in a room heated to 30-35 degrees Celsius. It’s hot. It’s particularly hot when contrasted with an Aberdonian winter. I’ve been going to Hot Yoga Aberdeen for about 18 months now, and I’m so excited to get back to it after the New Year break!

Kettlebells

This is a new one for me. I’ve done kettlebell classes through various gym memberships before, but never anything so focussed on technique and form. I have a gym membership but dread going because it’s really busy, and often the equipment I want to use is full. I’ve been looking for an alternative for a few months now, and earlier this week I found it – Kettlebells Aberdeen.

The Kettlebells Aberdeen studio.

KBA is a small, local gym focussing on kettlebell handling and training. I went along for a beginners workshop (which you need to attend before joining), and the owner, Ray, talked me through the benefits of kettlebell training, as well as showing me various lifts, and then correcting form etc when I gave them a go myself. I was there for 2 hours in total, and got a really detailed overview of the training structure that they use; I loved it. I’m going to ditch my traditional (and expensive!) gym membership in favour of regular training here, and I’m really excited to get started.

Walking

This sounds like a total cop out, but taking time out for walking is the one thing I make sure I do every day – no matter how busy I am. I walk the 1.5 miles to and from work most days and even though it’s not a huge distance, it sets up me for the day. It means I arrive at work ready to get started with a clear head. If I’m having a particularly stressful day I’ll try and make time for 15 or 20 minutes away from my desk to go for a wander too. I think this is a really important point for people that don’t live super close to their workplace and have to commute via public transport or by car – take half an hour out to go for a wander on your lunch break, it will change your mindset and make you feel much less stressed. If you don’t fancy walking about it silence, check out my podcast picks!

A few other ideas that you could look out for; Crossfit (I’ve never tried it but Lisa from In A Science World is a big fan!), home workouts (not really my thing but Andrea from PhD Fashionista is really into them), running, weightlifting, swimming, trampolining…
There are so many activities that you can get involved with during your PhD – look out for societies, local gyms etc, and really try to build some sort of active hobby into your routine. I’ve found the PhD a great time to try new hobbies because it also helps to refocus your mind on learning something with a quicker win than the PhD usually offers. It will not only help your physical health, but it’ll support your mental health too.

Self-Care Tips to Keep You Sane: Reading for Pleasure

At the end of January I wrote about the importance of academic self-care for PhD students; I didn’t delve too far into the specifics of what I do in my downtime and a lot of people asked. ‘It’s hard to switch off’ and ‘I find it hard to relax’ were the two phrases I encountered most frequently, so I thought I’d introduce a series of posts that provide more information, and recommendations, on what to do to give yourself a break during the inevitable stressful periods that come with doing a PhD.

This is the second installment in this ‘self-care tips to keep you sane’ series, and this week I’m talking about reading for pleasure. I read a lot, and I think it’s really important to make time to read exciting and imaginative stories that are in no way linked to your work. It gives you a chance to switch off.

A few years ago I joined my local library – it’s free and you get to keep books for a month, perfect for those of us on a budget! I’d really recommend checking out your local library; and make sure to venture further afield than your university library, you’ll end up picking up books related to your studies and that defeats the point.

I feel like I’m really making progress with my PhD, and this month I decided to treat myself. I don’t often re-read books so I don’t often buy books – they end up on shelves forever and I’d much rather borrow or swap books with other people to prevent me from building up a ridiculous collection of books I’ll never read again. I also really like surprises. Enter, Moth Box.

Moth Box is a small business set-up by Youtuber Mercedes Mills. It’s a book postal service with a difference; you don’t know what books you’re getting, and each is from an independent publisher. Each box is £20, and for that you get 2 books fitting that month’s theme – May’s was novels – neatly wrapped in tissue paper, and a bookmark that features a quote from each of the books.

The two books I got in my box are: Ties by Domenico Starnone, and Star-Shot by Mary-Ann Constantine. I hadn’t heard of either, but they both sound like stories I’ll enjoy. Overall I’m really happy with my May Moth Box and can see myself ordering again in the future; great value, brilliant books I wouldn’t otherwise have found, and beautifully packaged too.

Struggling to find time to read? I often do too. Lately I’ve been turning the TV off and closing my laptop an hour and a half before I plan to go to bed; that gives me time to read for an hour or so before sorting my life out for the next day (ironing clothes, making lunch etc etc) and getting ready for bed. It’s been such a lovely way to switch off at the end of a busy day, and I think it’s made my sleep quality improve too.

On Taking a ‘Mental Health’ Day

The idea of a ‘mental-health’ day was first introduced to me at the age of about 16 when the film Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist came out. The film starts with Michael Cera’s character, Nick, taking a ‘mental health’ day from school, which finds him burning mix CDs in honor of his lost love. Predictably, 16 year old me thought this film was amazing. At the age of 25 I haven’t watched it since, and I suspect I might not have the same feelings about it – so don’t take this as a recommendation.

Anyway.. at that point I didn’t reallyget  mental health days – I thought they were designed as a way to get out of school/stuff you didn’t want to do, and that you spent the day overdosing on carbs and feeling sorry for yourself. Turns out, that’s not (always) the case.
Confession time: I took a mental health day last week. My relationship isn’t crumbling, my family are mostly fine, and my friends are all just as sassy and hilarious as usual – so what prompted this? Honestly, I just felt really overwhelmed.

My PhD is on track, I’m still really enjoying the work, and I feel like I’m making progress at the right pace – whatever that is. One day last week I just wasn’t feeling it though. My alarm went off and I did the usual email-checking whilst still in bed, I got up, got ready and had breakfast as normal, and then I didn’t go into work. Instead I got some house jobs done (anyone else’s boyfriend not know that bedding should be changed regularly?!), I watched some really terrible TV, and I slowly got on with some of the less-brain tasking things on my to-do list. On paper, it wasn’t the most productive day.

The next day I went back into the office with a new sense of determination, I felt motivated again and I was excited to go to work. I don’t take these mental health days very often, but sometimes it’s really important to. If I hadn’t I can guarantee I’d had been horrendously unproductive, and grouchy and annoyed at myself as a result. So I guess the point of this post is to highlight the fact that everyone needs space every now and again, even if they do love their work. If you genuinely need a day away from whatever you’re doing then take time to step back; I was really glad that I did, and shockingly, the world didn’t stop when it realised I wasn’t sitting at my desk for one day.

Self-Care Tips to Keep You Sane: Podcasts

At the end of January I wrote about the importance of academic self-care for PhD students; I didn’t delve too far into the specifics of what I do in my downtime and a lot of people asked. ‘It’s hard to switch off’ and ‘I find it hard to relax’ were the two phrases I encountered most frequently, so I thought I’d introduce a series of posts that provide more information, and recommendations, on what to do to give yourself a break during the inevitable stressful periods that come with doing a PhD.

This week I’m starting with podcasts. I listen to podcasts daily; they help force my brain to focus on something that isn’t work, and they can be a really good way to spend the time you can easily lose when experiments are running or when you’re walking to/from the office. When looking for a new podcast to listen to I’m always a bit overwhelmed by the amount of choice available, so I’ve narrowed my favourites down to 4, and also given you a list of the 3 that are next on my ‘to listen to’ list.

What? Serial – Season 1
Who? Sarah Koenig, the people from This American Life, and a huge variety of guests linked to the case
What’s it about? Serial started the rise in podcast creation, it’s still the bench-mark for new pods to aim for, and it won a Peabody Award in 2015 for its innovative telling of a long-form non-fiction story. The first season investigated the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old student at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Her corpse was discovered on February 9th and identified two days later. The case was immediately treated as a homicide. Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested on February 28th, and charged with first-degree murder. Syed’s first trial ended in a mistrial, but after a six-week second trial, Syed was found guilty of Lee’s murder on February 25th 2000, and given a life sentence.
A word of caution – don’t get sucked into Serial Season 2; it’s no where near as good as Season 1. Season 3 is coming later this year – fingers crossed it matches up to Season 1.
When? Season 1 aired in 2014 but all episodes are still on iTunes ready for you to binge!
Where can I listen? Listen on iTunes here, or on the podcast website here.

The creators of Serial have just announced a new podcast called S-Town, starting March 28th, which sounds amazing.

What Undisclosed – All seasons are brilliant, but season 1 is my favourite
Who? Season 1 – Rabia Chaudry, Susan Simpson, Colin Miller
What’s it about? Rabia Chaudry was the person who initially alerted Sarah Koenig to Adnan’s case, leading to Serial. After Serial Rabia didn’t feel as though Sarah had done enough digging, she knew there was more, so she got together with Susan Simpson and Colin Miller to take a closer look at the case through Undisclosed. Season 1 is a brilliant podcast for those who’ve just finished Serial Season 1, but Season 2 (Joey Watkins) and Season 3 (Freddie Gray) stand alone. It’s one of the most in-depth podcasts I’ve ever listened to, and I find myself thinking about it for days afterwards.
When? Seasons 1 and 2 are already on iTunes, Season 3 started on March 6th, updating Mondays and Thursdays
Where can I listen? Listen on iTunes here, or on the podcast website here.

What? Don’t Salt My Game
Who? Laura Thomas PhD, plus guests
What’s it about? Laura Thomas is a Registered Nutritionist and Wellness Advocate, she talks to people in wellness, foodies, bloggers, entrepreneurs from cool brands, nutritionists, doctors, and anyone else who is shaking up the wellness world, to find out how they stay on top of their game – and to help you do you, but better. It’s not all headstands and courgette though; she and her guests aren’t afraid to dig deep into the darker side of wellness and will call BS on weird and faddy trend that don’t have any legitimacy or scientific merit.
This is a refreshingly honest pod that focusses on evidence, avoids the usual airy-fairy Insta-nutrition we see from unqualified influencers, and straight up calls out weird stuff like putting coconut oil in everything. I love this podcast, it feels like you’re having a chat with Laura and her guests – you’ll learn a tonne and never feel patronised.
When? New episodes every Friday
Where can I listen? Listen on iTunes here, or on Laura’s website here.

What? Missing Richard Simmons
Who? Dan Taberski and whoever he can rope in to speak to him
What’s it about? On February 15, 2014, fitness guru Richard Simmons disappeared. He stopped teaching his regular exercise class at Slimmons, cut off his closest friends, and removed himself from the public eye after decades as one of the most accessible celebrities in the world. Nobody has heard from him – and no one knows why he left. Filmmaker Dan Taberski was a Slimmons regular and a friend of Richard’s. Missing Richard Simmons is Dan’s search for Richard – and the deeper he digs, the stranger it gets.
The thing I really love about this podcast is that everyone has a different theory of what’s happened/is happening. Amanda Hess reported in The New York Times that this is a ‘morally suspect podcast’ – others think Taberski is genuinely worried about his friend and is doing everything he can to find him. I’m not sure where I sit, I just really hope that at some point we get an updated episode with an appearance from Richard Simmons himself.
When? New episodes every Wednesday
Where can I listen? Listen on iTunes here, or on the podcast website here.

Podcasts on my ‘to listen to’ list:

  • My Dad Wrote a Porno – I’ve heard a lot about this podcast, everyone I’ve spoken to about it says it’s absolutely hilarious, but then they blush a little and the topic moves on..
  • The 45th – hosted by Rabia Chaudry (Undisclosed), and featuring Susan Simpson and Sarah Basha, this is a recently developed podcast that examines developments from the White House that are worth a second look.
  • The Minimalists – After watching the Minimalism film – a ‘documentary about the important things’ I’m really intrigued by this, it’s next on my list once Missing Richard Simmons finishes next week.

Are you an avid podcast listener, are there pods I’ve skipped entirely? Leave a comment or Tweet me your recommendations!

Academic Self-Care for PhD Students: Why & How?

January is always a weird month for me; everyone’s trying to get back into a routine with work, attempting to maintain resolutions to go to the gym regularly and eat healthily, and the weather is dark and gloomy – especially in Aberdeen. This week has been particularly tough for me, I’m lacking in motivation and it’s been a week where prioritising self-care has kept me working. A few weeks ago, Olivia Kirtley shared a thread on Twitter about mental health issues, career pressures and academia. The hashtag #AcademicSelfCare has also taken off into a little online community. So, this week I’m talking about academic self care in relation to PhD students specifically, covering my tips and when you should be prioritising yourself over your work.

fullsizerender-1Taking the weekend off doesn’t work. Many people shift their focus to self-care at the weekends; they ‘allow’ themselves a lie in, they see friends and they spend time doing things they enjoy. This never works. Book-ending your week with good stuff means the working week becomes a prime opportunity for burnout.


Self-care needs to become an integral part of our daily lives
. Whether that means doing something small each day, or doing something a bit more substantial when you need a break.

Here are a few ideas of what I do to keep myself happy when I’m feeling stressed or under pressure:

Take a break and talk about it. I know lots of PhD students that don’t take lunch breaks; we grab a sandwich in between meetings, often eating at our desks. Taking time away from my desk to eat lunch and go for a walk helps me de-stress, and when I get back to my desk I’m then much more productive. It’s also a good idea to talk to other PhD students about how you’re feeling – if you’re feeling stressed, you can bet they know how you feel! Take time out to go for a coffee; realising that you’re not alone and asking for help can really take the weight off your shoulders.

Take advantage of your freedom. Like a lot of PhD students, I manage my own time. I’m rarely seen at my desk before 9am and if it’s raining and I don’t want to walk to work I won’t be at my desk at all. I work from home a lot, especially when I’m having a tough week. This week I worked from home 1 day out of 5, another day I left the office early to go to the gym before it got busy, and another I didn’t get to my desk until 11am. All of the work I wanted to get done, still got done.

Say no. This one’s tricky. We know it’s important to get involved with multiple different projects, we’re looking for opportunities to publish and doing all we can to increase the chances of getting a job once the PhD is complete. If you say yes to every opportunity you’re given, you’ll likely burnout after a few months. Think strategically, and say yes only to the things that fit your research interests, your time scales, and that involve people you enjoy working with.

“But I don’t have time to do any of this stuff!”

Everyone has time to say no. Everyone has time to make themselves a cup of tea and eat their lunch without scrolling through their inbox. It’s about getting into a routine of small things; at first you’ll find that you need to ‘make’ time to do these things, but after a few weeks they’ll come naturally. After that it’s important to recognise the days when you need to turn your alarm off to catch up on sleep, the times that you just leave your desk and go easy on yourself.

Self-care is a process that requires effort, but in the long-term you’ll find it helps you avoid burnout and unnecessary stress, and you’ll enjoy your work much more.

What do you do when in need of some #AcademicSelfCare? Let me know on Twitter.